Archive for the ‘Numbers’ Category

Inclusion and Exclusion, Part IV   1 comment

Moses Prays for Miriam To Be Healed

Above:   Moses Prays for the Healing of Miriam

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.

Keep us safe from all that may hurt us,

that, whole and well in body and spirit,

we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us to do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 14:33-53 (Thursday)

Numbers 4:34-5:4 (Friday)

Psalm 111 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 1:13-18 (Thursday)

2 Timothy 2:1-7 (Friday)

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Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

–Psalm 111:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The word “leprosy,” in the Bible, has a broad definition, applying to a variety of diseases of the skin.  Such conditions also fall under the heading of ritual impurity (consult Numbers 5:2a) and require a time of isolation before one returns to one’s community and to a state of ritual purity (consult Leviticus 13).

In Numbers 12 Miriam spoke negatively of Moses.  Her punishment was a bad case of snow-white scales, which usually would have caused her to go away for two weeks.  It became seven days, however, due to the intercession of her esteemed brother.  The rabbinical name for her condition was metzora, from motzi’ shem ra’, or “uttering an evil name.”  Her sin was slander, but the object of that offense pleaded to God on her behalf.  A time of removal from the community was inevitable, but the goal of the leadership of that community was always restoration.

In Luke 5 Jesus healed a man with some kind of skin disease.  It was not leprosy, in the narrow, clinical definition of that term, but it was enough to render the man ritually impure and to isolate him from his community.  Then Jesus commanded him to obey the requirements of Leviticus 14 and not to tell anyone (other than the priest, per Leviticus 14).  Perhaps the man went to the priest, but he certainly spread the word, causing crowds to deny Jesus as much solitude as he needed.

Salvation was Christ’s primary task on the Earth; healing was something he did.  Did crowds come to him mostly to hear the words of salvation or to seek healing?  Quite often they flocked to him for the latter purpose.  There was nothing wrong with seeking wholeness and restoration, of course, but there was much more to Christ’s mission than individual wholeness and restoration.  There was, for example, collective wholeness and restoration.

A community cannot be at its best when people who should be part of it are not.  Such people might be outsiders by their choice or the decisions of others.  Many people are outsiders because self-identified insiders exclude them, often wrongly.  Frequently we human beings define ourselves negatively–according to who or what we are not.  This practice harms us and those we exclude improperly.  As Professor Luke Timothy Johnson says, one message in the Gospel of Mark is that those who think they are insiders might actually be outsiders.  And, as Edmond Browning, a former Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, writes, in Christ there are no outsiders.

May we who follow God (or at least attempt to do so) identify as children of God who bear the divine image and respect the image of God in our fellow human beings.  Theological and personality differences will persist, of course, but we need not seek to define ourselves negatively and, by extension, others in the same way.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-23-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Of Ritual Purity and Impurity   1 comment

Tabernacle

Above:   The Tabernacle

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.

Keep us safe from all that may hurt us,

that, whole and well in body and spirit,

we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us to do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 14:33-53 (Thursday)

Numbers 4:34-5:4 (Friday)

Psalm 111 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 1:13-18 (Thursday)

2 Timothy 2:1-7 (Friday)

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Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

–Psalm 111:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Merely approaching the place of worship is impossible for some people in Numbers 5.  The precincts of the Tabernacle are to be ritually pure, excluding

anyone with an eruption or a discharge and anyone defiled by a corpse.

–Verse 2a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This rule reflects the fear of ritual impurity as a contagion, albeit a temporary one.  A build up of ritual impurity would, the prevailing voice of Numbers 5:2a feared, endangered the Presence of God in the community.  That contagion even spread to walls affected by mildew or rot (Leviticus 14:33-53).  In Numbers 5, however, the carriers of ritual impurity were those with skin diseases, sexual discharges, and those defiled by a corpse.

When I consider healing stories in the Bible, especially those involving Jesus, the first criterion of ritual impurity is frequently germane; the second criterion is relevant at least once.  The healing of the afflicted person is in part a restoration of him or her to wholeness, community, and centers of worship.

I, as a Gentile, seldom think about ritual purity or purity in general, except in negative terms.  The self-proclaimed theologically pure seem always to define people of my perspective as impure, after all.  And, when I think deeply about ritual purity, I find that the concept offends me.  Why, for example, should a gynecological or dermatological condition render one ritually impure?  I know that the purpose of the ritual purity system in the Torah is to separate human matters of sex and death from the experience of encountering God.  To restate that, the purpose of the Biblical ritual purity system is to heighten one’s God-like state temporarily, therefore making one temporarily eligible to enter the Presence of God in the designated place of worship.  Yet what about the spiritual anguish of the good people among the ritually impure?

As much as I approve of the practice of approaching God with full reverence (including in one’s attire at worship) and therefore appreciate the sense of awe with which the Law of Moses treats the Tabernacle, I also detect an exclusionary tone.  That bothers me, for the grounds for exclusion seem to be biological and medical, not moral.  They seem immoral to me, therefore.  I have none of the conditions which might render me ritually impure, but I am nevertheless always ineligible to enter the Presence of God in worship, except by grace.  I, as a Christian, understand this grace to have much to do with Jesus of Nazareth.  That is a sound teaching.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-23-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Upright and Religious Lives   1 comment

New Novel Winslow Homer

Above:  The New Novel, by Winslow Homer

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O Lord God, you are the holy lawgiver, you are the salvation of your people.

By your Spirit renew us in your covenant of love,

and train us to care tenderly for all our neighbors,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 5:5-10 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 9:25-10:5 (Friday)

Psalm 1 (Both Days)

Titus 1:5-16 (Thursday)

Titus 2:7-8, 11-15 (Friday)

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Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;

everything they do shall prosper.

It is not so with the wicked;

they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,

nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked is doomed.

–Psalm 1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Psalm 1 is excessively optimistic in places, for not everything the righteous do prospers.  Indeed, many of the wicked do quite well for themselves in this life.  That quibble aside, I note the recognition of ultimate justice, for all of us will answer to the same God, in whom dwell both judgment and mercy.

Thea assigned readings from the Old and New Testaments focus on how to live on this plane of reality.  We learn about consequences of sins also.  Sometimes those consequences assume the form of restitution  to the wronged person or the wronged person’s next of kin.  Or they might assume the form of a donation to a priest if there is no next of kin.  But what about the situation in which the collective sins?  Moses interceded with God to avoid the destruction of the people, who were stubborn, grumbling ingrates who had not surrendered their slave mentalities.  Many members of that first generation of partially liberated people died due to their sins and the second generation entered the Promised Land.  Words from Titus could have applied to that first generation:

They claim to know God but by their works they deny him; they are outrageously rebellious and quite untrustworthy for any good work.

–1:16, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Speaking of slavery, God had liberated that first generation physically from servitude in Egypt.  Thus the birth of the Hebrew nation was its passage through the parted waters of the Sea of Reeds.  Those who designed the lectionary I am following skipped Titus 2:9-10:

Slaves must be obedient to their masters in everything, and do what is wanted without argument, and show complete honesty at all times, so that they are in every way a credit to the teaching of God our Saviour.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

I side with God in Exodus, not with St. Paul the Apostle, in this matter.  Slavery is wrong in all its forms at all times and in all places.

Another portion of the Letter of Titus is less troublesome, although not without a history of excessively rigorous interpretation and enforcement:

[God’s grace] has taught us that we should give up everything contrary to true religion and all our worldly passions; we must be self-restrained and live upright lives in this present world, waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

–2:12-14, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Off the top of my head I can repeat a list of allegedly self-indulgent and therefore sinful deeds:

  1. Attending plays,
  2. Reading novels,
  3. Playing dominoes,
  4. Playing chess,
  5. Playing cards,
  6. Playing soccer,
  7. Wearing fashionable clothes,
  8. Wearing ribbons in one’s hair (sorry, ladies),
  9. Drinking coffee,
  10. Drinking tea,
  11. Eating meat,
  12. Eating pastries,
  13. Dancing,
  14. Hosting a dance at home,
  15. Attending circuses,
  16. Watching television, and
  17. Watching television.

I have found references to all of these in various sources, which have dated the condemnations from centuries ago the present day.  On the other hand, would not opposing slavery constitute part of leading an upright and religious life at any time.  One might think so.

May we who profess to follow God do so in reality, forsaking petty nonsense and pursuing love of our fellow human beings and seeking the best for them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 3, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR CARL LICHTENBERGER, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, NOVELIST

THE FEAST OF JIMMY LAWRENCE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF PRUDENCE CRANDALL, EDUCATOR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-25-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Of Food and Ritual Propriety   1 comment

Above:  A Sycamore Tree in Jericho

Image Source = Bonio

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zacchaeus-sycamore.JPG)

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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2 Maccabees 6:18-31 (Revised English Bible):

Eleazar, one of the leading teachers of the law, a man of great age and distinguished bearing, was forced to open his mouth to eat pork; but preferring death with honour to life with impiety, he spat it out and voluntarily submitted to the torture.  So should men act who have the courage to reject which despite a natural desire to save their lives it is not lawful to eat.  Because of their long acquaintance with them, the officials in charge of this sacrilegious meal had a word with Eleazar in private; they urged him to bring meat which he was permitted to eat and had himself prepared; he need only pretend to comply with the king’s order to eat the sacrificial meat.  In that way he would escape death by taking advantage of the clemency which their long-standing friendship merited.  But Eleazar made an honourable decision, one worthy of his years and the authority of old age, worthy of the grey hairs he had attained to and wore with such distinction, worthy of his faultless conduct from childhood, but above all worthy of the holy and God-given law; he replied at once:

Send me to my grave! If I went through with this pretence at my time of my life, many of the young might believe that at the age of ninety Eleazar had turned apostate.  If I practiced deceit for the sake of a brief moment of life, I should lead them astray and stain my old age with dishonour.  I might for the present avoid man’s punishment, but alive or dead I should never escape the hand of the Almighty.  If I now die bravely, I shall show that I have deserved my long life and leave to the young a noble example; I shall be teaching them how to die a good death, gladly and nobly, for our revered and holy laws.

With these words he went straight to the torture, while those who a short time before had shown him friendship now turned hostile because, to them, what he said was madness.  When Eleazar was on the point of death from the blows he had received, he groaned aloud and said:

To the Lord belongs all holy knowledge; he knows what terrible agony I endure in my body from this flogging, though I could have escaped death; yet he knows also that in my soul I suffer gladly, because I stand in awe of him.

So he died; and by his death he left a noble example and a memorial of virtue, not only to the young but also to the great mass of his countrymen.

Psalm 3 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  LORD,  how many adversaries I have!

how many there are who rise up against me!

2  How many there are who say of me,

“There is no help for him in his God.”

3  But you, O LORD, are a shield about me;

you are my glory, the one who lifts up my head.

4  I call aloud to the LORD,

and he answers me from his holy hill;

5  I lie down and go to sleep;

I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

6  I do not fear the multitudes of people

who set themselves against me all around.

7  Rise up, O LORD; set me free, O my God;

surely, you will strike all my enemies across my face,

you will break the teeth of the wicked.

8  Deliverance belongs to the LORD.

Your blessing be upon your people!

Luke 19:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

Entering Jericho Jesus made his way through the city.  There was a man there named Zacchaeus; he was superintendent of taxes and very rich.  He was eager to see what Jesus looked like; but, being  a little man, he could not see him for the crowd.  So he ran on ahead and climbed a sycomore tree in order to see him, for he was to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said,

Zacchaeus, be quick to come down, for I must stay at your house today.

He climbed down as quickly as he could and welcomed him gladly.  At this time there was a general murmur of disapproval.

He has gone in to be the guest of a sinner,

they said.  But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,

Here and now, sir, I give half my possessions to charity; and if I have defrauded anyone, I will repay him four times over.

Jesus said to him,

Today  salvation has come to this house–for this man too is a son of Abraham.  The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what is lost.

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Torture:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/a-prayer-for-those-who-inflict-torture/

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/a-prayer-for-those-who-are-tortured/

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There is much that is wearisome about the four Books of the Maccabees.  Consider elderly Eleazar’s speech, set in the context of his flogging to death.  Really, do you think that someone would be so eloquent in such a circumstance?  By the way, there are more over-the-top righteous speeches in 4 Maccabees.  But such speeches made the books of the Maccabees popular with many Christians, living under the threat of persecution, during the earliest centuries of the faith.

So Eleazar preferred to die while keeping the Law of God, as he understood it, rather than even pretend to obey the royal command to eat pork–and pork sacrificed to idol.  The Apostle Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 8, did not become upset about eating meat sacrificed to idols, for, as he wrote, there is only God.  Yet he recommended not consuming such meat, so as not to confuse those who thought that pantheons were real.  Eating such meat was lawful for him, but not permitted.  Then there is Simon Peter’s vision of ritually unclean food in Acts 10:9-16.

What God has made clean, you must not call profane,

God said.

I am a Gentile–one raised Protestant.  So, not only do I enjoy an occasional pork chop and a ham sandwich, but I even eat before Eucharist and consume meat on Fridays, including Good Friday.  Food prohibitions beyond those associated with health concerns seem superfluous to me.  Nevertheless, none of these facts negate the faith of Eleazar or the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Speaking of food…

Jesus invited himself to eat with Zacchaeus, a tax collector and, in so doing, caused a scandal.  The reason for the scandal was the profession of his host, Roman tax collecting.  The Roman imperial tax collection system at the time encouraged corruption, for tax collectors lived off the excess funds they gathered.  Zacchaeus seems to have especially corrupt and understandably despised, but he sought Jesus, who recognized potential in him and responded to that.  Zacchaeus acted to make his repentance plain, for he volunteered to made resitution at a higher level than the Law of Moses required.  Four-fold restitution was the rate mandatory for violent and deliberate destruction (Exodus 22:1), but two-fold restitution was the assigned rate for run-of-the-mill theft (Exodus 22:4 and 7).  And Leviticus 6:5 and Numbers 5:7 specified that the rate of restitution in the case of voluntary confession and repayment was the amount stolen plus one-fifth.

I wonder what else Zacchaeus did.  The Biblical narrative is silent on the matter, but one can assume safely that it reflected the positive impact of Jesus on his life.  Our Lord ate with people such as Zacchaeus, thereby keeping “bad” company.  One was not supposed to eat with “bad” company, according to respectable social norms at the time and place.

Jesus disregarded the appearance of propriety when he reached out to Zacchaeus.  Eleazar gave his life when he maintained such appearances and obeyed his faith.  I propose that there is a rule governing whether one ought to maintain the appearance of propriety:  Why is one doing it?  If the rationale is compassion, maintaining the appearance of propriety is probably justifiable, for many people cannot distinguish between appearances and reality.  But if one is doing this to make one’s self look good, it is probably not justifiable. Would you, O reader, rather be Zacchaeus or Jesus at the dinner, or someone scoffing at the reality of that meal?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 26, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP NERI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/week-of-proper-28-tuesday-year-1/

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